Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

This sermon was preached on December 2, 2018. The Scriptures were Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Christmas music season is in full swing. Although it’s been building since Halloween, at this point, its unavoidable, which is part of why we’re going to ease into it here at church.

But as I was listening to my Spotify Christmas Classics playlist, I noticed something strange. Judy Garland’s version of Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas came on, and I realized that the lyrics were different.

There’s a line in that version that doesn’t appear in later, happier versions of the song, even though critics have noted, and I agree, it’s the most powerful line in the song.

The song climaxes emotionally at the end as Judy sings

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

There’s something about muddling through somehow that speaks to what it means to be a Christian, heck, what it means to be human, in a world filled with separation, pain and sorrow.

Especially, It speaks to our Bible readings today, and what it means to have hope.  For hope is not the Pollyanna attitude of naïve optimism that things will be easy, or that there will no struggle

Hope knows that sometimes our best efforts will not make things all the way right. Hope reminds us that we presently and ultimately live in the palm of God’s hand. Hope means remembering that the present does not necessarily dictate the future.

Hope believes in redemption, in second chances, in forgiveness, that things can change. Hope means that even though we must keep our eyes on the difficult road we trod, we are also called to lift our heads up to the horizon, to remember that there is no force greater than God’s love.

Jeremiah, the author of our first bible reading, knew all about hope in the face of terror and tragedy. Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem, in the kingdom of Judah.  Jerusalem was the center of a tiny kingdom at the border of three of the great empires of the ancient world, the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian.

They’re the heroes of our story.

For years, Jerusalem had, through reforms, careful diplomacy, and a helpful plague that swept through a besieging army, avoided conquest by these large and terrible empires. In 586 BC, this all changed.

Jerusalem was conquered, the city sacked, the temple that Solomon built destroyed, and its people sent into exile.  If you’ve heard the phrase Babylonian exile, it comes from this event, where the population was sent en masse to live in and around the city of Babylon, in modern day Iraq.

Jeremiah saw the destruction of his city.  He saw the scattering of God’s people. Every structure, both spiritual and physical that had undergirded his and the life of his people was torn asunder.

He saw the culmination of the breaking of the covenant between God and his people, especially God’s promises to Abraham, to Moses, to David of a permanent homeland that would be without end.

The world as he knew it had ended, and everything had been turned upside down.

Yet Jeremiah kept going.

That, by itself, is worthy of praise.

Jeremiah’s spiritual strength, is not only to function as a leader in the face of this great tragedy, in his ability to not just put one foot in front of the other. Jeremiah’s great strength is to see clearly the trouble that they were in on the road that they trod, and

He kept encouraging his people to settle down when they were exiled, to be fruitful and multiply in the face of danger in a foreign land. He asked them to be model subjects, but to never forget who they were, and who’s they were. That they did not really belong to Babylon, but to God.

It is at the end of this reassurance to the people, the plotting out of what their lives would look like on the hard and painful journey of exile that our reading from Jeremiah appears.

It’s a reading that would have made Jeremiah’s people look up from the road they were traveling on. It forced them to look up from the road toward the horizon.

Toward a future that was peaceful, not just in the absence of conflict from their neighbors, but in the presence of justice and righteousness, as carried out by their king.

Listening to Jeremiah’s words, we might think that this work is really hard, and that’s because the work is indeed, really hard. Living with the tension that a real hope implies between the acknowledging the reality of world as it is and also seeing and imagining how it should be when no one else can is hard work.

It’s the work that Moses did when he insisted to the Israelites that yes, a promised land of milk and honey did exist even when it would have been easier to return and remain as the pharaoh’s slaves.

We just talked about how it was Jeremiah’s work, inspiring the exiles to prosper and remember and to see clearly in the face of total societal collapse.

It was Mary and Joseph’s work, knowing that even with no room at the inn, that even though they would have to flee their country in the face of danger, that God would be born in the world through them.

And that work is our work too, when we hear Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading. Jesus is reminding us that the road that we have to tread will be hard, not just as a single people, for the whole earth. Jesus tells us that there will be distress amongst the peoples, and signs in the skies.

An quick aside about the signs in the skies; astrology was an accepted Christian practice for a long time. It was thought that God wanted to us to know him through the study of nature, and so wrote the history and future of the world in the stars- It’s why Jesus’ birth is heralded by a star that guides the wise men from the east.

So learned people studied the skies back then just as educated people now study something like economics or history or political science- to learn why and how the world works.

We are supposed to, as Christians, keep appraised and engaged in the world around us. It doesn’t mean that we are to be defined by it, but we are called to live in it. And even as we do so, even more so, are we called to remember who we belong to, even as the exile we endure from the Kingdom of God and the eventual reign of Christ seems distant.

For its when the presence of God seems most distant from our day to day circumstances that we are called to look up. To look to the horizon and remember that no matter how hard the paths we journey on now are, it will not be that way forever, nor does it have to be.

That, my friends, is Hope.

Hope is what Judy Garland was singing to us about.  See, because Judy was singing to a nation in the depths of World War II, about to suffer through the Battle of the Bulge, with some of the heaviest combat losses for US troops in the war. 

It became popular with US troops in Europe not because it was cheery, but because it wasn’t.  It gave them an emotional space to express that life was tough, that they might not make it to next winter, and many did not.

But it also expressed hope. That the war would be over, that the journey they were walking on was one they could do, one day, one step at a time, and that on occasion, they would be able to look up at the horizon and know Hope, and Peace.

Soon we all will be together, if the fates allow, Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow, So have yourself a merry little Christmas now